It shouldn’t be surprising that New York Giants players are running laps for miscues at practice, however sophomoric it might seem. This is who Joe Judge is. This is why the Giants hired him to be their coach.
You shouldn’t even be batting an eye that he had players lined up five yards apart set to crash violently in a tackling-to-the-ground drill, even if it ended abruptly because of an injury scare.
If you were listening, Judge made it clear this was how he was going to be from the moment he was hired. And he’s unapologetically going to be running that same tackling drill soon enough.
“The same things win football games that have always won football games. It’s fundamental. … It’s running, it’s tackling, it’s ball security. It’s a contact sport, you can’t get around that. It’s meant to be a physical game. It’s for tough people,” Judge said at his introductory news conference. “We will practice with a physical attitude. We will practice in pads, we will practice live tackling — not to make a statement that we’re trying to be tough. We’re going to practice live tackling because I believe in doing it safely. You want to make your players safer, you start by instructing them how to do it.
“Everything we ask them to do at full speed on Sunday at a competitive level we’re going to make sure that we have practiced, corrected, and re-practiced before they have to do it at a live pace. There are not going to be shortcuts with what we have to do.”
All this came moments after Judge explained he’s about “an old-school, physical mentality.”
It conjured memories of Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin and the days of winning Super Bowls for Giants fans.
So what has transpired in practices should have been expected, but critics — including some former players — have mocked Judge on social media for being himself, and at the same time being like his mentor: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Never does. Be. Your. Self. There is only one BB
— Benjamin Watson (@BenjaminSWatson) August 18, 2020
We won’t know if the critics are right or wrong about Judge for several years. The Giants hope it’s decades. But they are right about one thing: This is a dangerous and unorthodox (though not unprecedented) approach.
It has merit in that Belichick has guided perhaps the greatest dynasty in NFL history using many of these tenets. However, tackling to the ground at practice isn’t the norm — a majority of the league’s teams don’t do it. Belichick and the Patriots do, Andy Reid and the Chiefs, Doug Pederson and the Eagles, Matt Patricia and the Lions, and maybe a handful of others. That’s it.
I’ve covered the Giants since 2013 (when that gruff, grumpy Super Bowl-winning Coughlin was still the coach) and have never seen tackling to the ground at a practice.
The 2013 and 2014 seasons were the final two years of the Coughlin regime. By that time, the Giants were playing catch-up with the times by laughably taking a break mid-practice — a halftime of sorts — where everybody went inside the team’s fieldhouse for five minutes for shade and rest. They called it a “hydration period” that undoubtedly would have riled up a younger Coughlin.
But this is where the NFL is these days. Judge’s twist on the system of success he learned from Belichick and Alabama coach Nick Saban has the Giants among the league’s outliers. Gone are the two-a-days in the scorching summer temperatures. This year there are no joint practices and, heck, no preseason games. These are vastly different times, and there are myriad ways of achieving success.
It would seem everyone can agree on this: These Giants needed an overhaul to their approach. They lead the NFL in losses over the past three years (12-36), so toughness clearly hasn’t been their specialty. It can easily be argued that if there was one organization that needed Judge’s tough, physical approach, it’s these Giants.
But that isn’t where Judge is playing with fire with this current group.
It’s with tactics like taking players’ names off the back of jerseys and making them run laps for miscues — this applies to everyone including quarterback Daniel Jones and star running back Saquon Barkley — methods that are more common in high school and college than the NFL. They can be viewed as hokey, and it’s not hard to imagine this approach alienating veterans at some point if Judge is harping on, let’s say, making sure they’re in the “proper dress.”
Coach Joe Judge explains his philosophy behind nameless jerseys
— New York Giants (@Giants) August 17, 2020
This is the fine line that Judge has elected to walk. It’s a conscious decision, even though it hasn’t worked well for most of the previous Belichick disciples. But this is who Judge promised he was going to be, and he’s hardly apologetic.
“First off, everything we do has a purpose,” Judge said of balancing the no-nonsense tone with keeping the veterans on board. “We’re very intent on explaining to our team why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them. I’m a big believer in educating our team in why we’re doing things. That we’re not just out there blindly winging it and trying to go ahead and force punishment.
“I explained the other day, when you make mistakes on the field, there are consequences. In the game, it’s penalty yards. At a practice, we have to understand that there are consequences for mistakes. This isn’t a punishment. It’s a reminder that we have to draw our attention and be more detailed with how we approach things.”
This is going to take a total buy-in by everyone in the locker room, and veteran receiver Sterling Shepard said this group is all-in right now. When the Giants are winning, it shouldn’t be a problem. But what happens when they inevitably hit a bump in the road?
In the NFL that happens to everyone, even Belichick and the Patriots. When the Giants reach that point, it will be the ultimate test of Judge’s approach, which is pretty similar to his mentor’s, minus the handful of rings to validate it. Will he be able to keep everyone on board?
Wide receiver Golden Tate has seen a similar version of this. He was in Detroit when Patricia arrived. Patricia made coaches and players run laps for mistakes, too, running a tough ship with some striking similarities to Judge’s system.
It hasn’t worked. The Lions have lost a lot (9-22-1) under Patricia and he has consistently clashed with veterans before running some of them out of town.
Tate is tasked with trying to prevent that from happening with the Giants.
“As a veteran guy, my job is to keep the team close, help guys develop and echo what the head coach, GM and my [position] coach want to be put out there,” he said. “So far, I’ve really enjoyed what Joe has brought to the table. One of the things I love most about him, [Judge] and [offensive coordinator] Jason Garrett are very detailed. Coach Garrett uses all his time. He wants to be abundantly clear with everything. We teach the game in very much detail so once we get in the game it should come easy and we should know exactly what’s expected out of us.”
What works in Judge’s benefit is that padded training camp practices last for only two weeks in this unprecedented year. If it were for a full month or so like normal, players might have tired of Judge’s ways before the end of the summer. But there is no time for that this year amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
This buys Judge some much-needed time. The Giants might take their lumps at times this season, but as long as they make marginal progress, it’s easy to foresee a long-range buy-in.
One thing seems certain with the approach he has taken: Judge is either going to be regarded as a genius or spectacular failure. There will be no in-between.
However, it could take years to determine which one.